Holy Trollers: How to argue about religion online

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"Yo mama…"

Whenever I heard those two words while growing up in inner-city Baltimore, I knew something bad was about to happen. Trading insults was a childhood ritual. But everyone understood that one subject was off-limits. You didn’t talk about anybody’s momma unless you were prepared to start swinging.

Now that I’m all grown-up, I’ve discovered a new arena for combat: The reader’s comments section for stories about religion.

When I first started writing about religion for an online news site, I eagerly turned to the comment section for my articles, fishing for compliments and wondering if I had provoked any thoughtful discussions about faith.

I don’t wonder anymore.

When I look at the comment section now, I see a whole lot of “yo mamas” being tossed about. Readers exchange juvenile insults, condescending lectures and veer off into tangents that have nothing to do with the article they just read.

For years, I’ve listened to these “holy trollers” in silence. Now I’m calling them out. I’ve learned that the same types of people take over online discussions about faith and transform them into the verbal equivalent of a food fight. You may recognize some of these characters.

You might even recognize yourself.

Written By: John Blake
continue to source article at religion.blogs.cnn.com

33 COMMENTS

        • In reply to #17 by nick keighley:

          In reply to #3 by Quine:

          In reply to #2 by adiroth:

          … “Why can’t we all get along?”

          Because, sometimes, one side is actually wrong.

          that’s still no need to be rude

          No, that is orthogonal to the rudeness issue. I try to be polite, but that does not always result in “getting along” when presenting facts the other side wants desperately to disregard. Most people, here, have been believers in the past. Stories we have received from those who have recently awakened from the delusion of faith tend to have more to do with the problems of making the pieces of their world view continue to fit together after exposure to facts and evidence. I think those facts are, perhaps, harder to dismiss when presented politely, but in the long run truth counts for more than going along to get along.

  1. John Blake admitted theological terminology goes over his head like sci-fi. That automatically means he’s less smart$ than many other commentators on this issue. Maybe if he could understand theology, he’d know all theism – no matter what form it takes – is irrational. Then he wouldn’t dismiss literally all atheists online as trolls. Remember, he didn’t even include a prefixing adjective, e.g. “rude atheists”. He literally said atheists per se are a troll class, even though that contradicts his “one of my best friends is an atheist” trick. Yeah, yeah. The fact is he’s against “you’re wrong” statements, but only when theists are the target.

    $ No, that’s not an ad hominem, before someone who doesn’t bother learning the definitions of fallacies pretends it is. Ad hominem means claiming someone’s position is wrong because they suck, not just admitting (regardless of how well you defend it) that you think they suck. The fact is he’s wrong to think there’s a theism that actually makes sense. No cosmological, ontological, theological, transcendental or design argument works; nor does any theodicy. How do I know this? Because none of them are even felt by all prominent theologians to work. There’s one astronomer in the Vatican alone who doesn’t accept any argument for a god’s existence is valid (Richard Dawkins interviewed him).

  2. Thanks for the lesson in manners, Mr. Blake. Of course people should ‘discuss’ rather than hurl insults. No news there. But your argument breaks down the moment you equate the validity of the religious arguments — all of which have been repeatedly discredited — with skepticism (whether rude or polite).

    Obviously downright insults simply shut down the dialog, but saying something lovingly also does not make it true. I’m all in favor of polite, lucid, logical discussion, but I’m betting it is the offended believers who lose their cool sooner and more often.

  3. “Only slaves need a saviour”

    Where’s the offence in this? Statement of fact as far as I can see.

    Politeness is akin to respect- both must be earned, not demanded; I don’t like his whining plea for understanding.
    And make no apology for “stridency” ;-)

    • In reply to #6 by Billy Joe:

      “Only slaves need a saviour”

      Where’s the offence in this? Statement of fact as far as I can see.

      Indeed! This is even more obvious if ‘redeemer’ is substituted for ‘savior’.

    • In reply to #6 by Billy Joe:

      “Only slaves need a saviour”

      Where’s the offence in this? Statement of fact as far as I can see.

      ?? in what sense is this a statement of fact?

      Politeness is akin to respect- both must be earned, not demanded; I don’t like his whining plea for understanding.
      And make no apology for “stridency” ;-)

  4. This is simply a special pleading for apologetics from an ignorant theist fudgist who simply cannot cope with reality!

    This passage is very telling!

    Sometimes the scholar is someone who believes all religion is hopelessly derivative: it’s all based on something that came before.

    A reader by the name of “Seyedibar” responded to my article on Christian persecution with this:

    “A little study of history and comparative religion goes a long way. Abraham is based on an Egyptian figure. His god was Ptah, not El, and his vision was of Memphis, not Israel. Jesus was likely based on a Merkabah mystic, one of a hairdresser and carpenter. .. And if you back a little further, Uguritic archaeology shows us that the book of Genesis is based on the ancestor kings of the Canaanites. Most Christians and Jews aren’t aware that the creator of the Garden of Eden, El, is recorded to have died of a wild boar attack.”

    Like I said, hyperspace. I just can’t go where “Seyedibar” has gone before. I love the scholar’s passion for religion, but some of them lose me when they try to deploy all their knowledge of history and religion in any effort to change someone else’ beliefs.

    Ignorance of his own religion plus a refusal to look (eyes shut fingers in ears) at history or “go where” people debate it seriously!

    It’s too bad that many of the exchanges between atheists and people of faith in our comments section don’t follow the same script. In fact, they have some of the nastiest religious arguments I’ve witnessed online.

    A sample:

    In a recent Belief Blog article about atheism, a reader identifying himself as “Sam Stone” says to another:

    “Free people do not need a savior, Kate. Only slaves need saviors.”

    Ah! One of those “nasty” inconvenient facts – so upsetting to a saviour-dependent mind-slave!

    Another reader who identifies himself as “CamDEn1” tells a Christian,

    “You are an uneducated fool. Ever you heard of Richard Dawkins? Sam Harris? Atheists have more respected scholars than Christianity…”

    This would need to be put in context, but if it is true of someone spouting ignorance with an air of false authority or citing YEC ignoramuses, it could be a factual valid comment debunking pomposity.

    “We change no one’s mind by attacking,” said Charles Camosy, an ethics professor at Fordham University in New York City.

    Now we get to the, “goody-goody – aren’t pandering apologists wonderful”, section!

    Camosy has made a career out of bridging religious differences. He’s part of a “Contending Modernites” group, which finds common ground between Christians and Muslims. He’s also the co-founder of a website devoted to dialing down the heat in religious arguments entitled, “Catholic Moral Theology.”

    So that is what is being sold here!

    Pandering to “Catholic Moral Theology,” which is posing as “moderate in the middle”, between atheists and fundamentalists nuts, while pretending that the dogmatic religions of Catholics and Muslins have “common ground” as he writes articles on “Christian persecution”!

    • In reply to #9 by Alan4discussion:

      This is simply a special pleading for apologetics from an ignorant theist fudgist who simply cannot cope with reality!

      This passage is very telling!

      Sometimes the scholar is someone who believes all religion is hopelessly derivative: it’s all based on something that came before.

      A reader by the n…

      Skewered him! Very nicely done.

  5. No one will listen to you if they don’t like you, said Joe Carter, an evangelical blogger and author of “How to Argue like Jesus,”

    a book that explores how Jesus verbally tangled with his enemies and persuaded his friends.

    Carter said Jesus was such an excellent communicator because he told stories that provoked emotions, took surprising twists and forced people to draw their own conclusions. But he also connected with people because of a simple reason: he cared about them.

    “When people know that you care about them, they’re more likely to be persuaded by you,” Carter said. “We tend to be persuaded by people we like and trust. Jesus had that in spades.”

    According to the story tellers who were writing the super-star Jesus script to feed to gullible readers (ancient and modern).
    Some of them still can’t tell fiction from reality!

  6. It is interesting that even with his own choice of examples the christians say…..

    “disgusting, deviant perverted virus,” and a “Bozo,” before ending with this prediction:“Hell is coming for you love. Special dungeon just for u and u won’t be able to die. LOL.LOL.”“I hope you like worms because you will have your own personal worm to feed off your fat drippings in hell for all eternity…”“Thanks for once again confirming how vulgar, uneducated and delusional you are Meredith.”

    While the atheist says…….

    “Free people do not need a savior, Kate. Only slaves need saviors.” “You are an uneducated fool.

    I think he has accidentally proved how rational atheists are, although he didn’t intend to do this. He has missed the most glaringly obvious point in his own article.

  7. Argumentum ad hominem is counter productive in discussions with religious people.

    Debating with someone of blind faith is extremely difficult because their world view provides them with almost limitless scope to manoeuvre. If or when they’re confronted with checkmate they can simply change the rules of the game.

    If they are convinced that they know the mind of God and speak on her behalf they’ll cling on to that comfort blanket very tightly indeed. Trying to persuade them to let go of it is probably more difficult than attempting to sweep water into a pile or nail jelly to a concrete ceiling.

  8. Another reader who identifies himself as “CamDEn1” tells a Christian, “You are an uneducated fool. Ever you heard of Richard Dawkins? Sam Harris? Atheists have more respected scholars than Christianity.”

    On the one hand, while it is trolling to claim athiests are just another form of trolls… The fact is that some athiests are a**eholes, and we get a lot of them on this site.

    How many times do we see an article about a conservative person taking one step forwards (which is a good thing) only to be scorned by nearly every poster as a terrible person for not taking two steps forwards? True. Fundamentalists are very nasty people. Even after taking a step forwards they are still very nasty people. But would it kill you to admit that the step forwards was at least, in and of itself, a good thing?

    It’s even worse when it’s a religious or political leader. Leaders are only leaders because people chose to follow them. If they go too far off message, or outright change the message, people will stop following them. And next morning they’ll be found having committed suicide by stabbing themselves in the back 57 times. This is politics. This is our thing as a species. So why do people still cry, “Look! Look! It’s a pedophile!” when the current pope suggests that ending the culture war would be a good thing? Stopping the church funded heal-digging that opposes social and medical progress would be a massive improvement in many nations all over the world. It is NOT just one step forwards. So why is that so many on the site can read that story and their only reaction is…

    “Look! Look! It’s a pedophile! It’s a pedophile! Quick! Summon the Geneva Convention!”

    Because, see, that doesn’t help.

    • In reply to #13 by ANTIcarrot:

      So why do people still cry, “Look! Look! It’s a pedophile!” when the current pope suggests that ending the culture war would be a good thing? Stopping the church funded heal-digging that opposes social and medical progress would be a massive improvement in many nations all over the world. It is NOT just one step forwards.

      I’ll give you that the new Pope is a breath of fresh air after the last couple of them. But I have yet to see evidence that it is anything other than air. I can see that he is trying to stop the Vatican Bank from laundering Mafia money and no doubt protecting his own back but so far he’s not actually done anything. Unless you count appointing
      Cardinal Pell from Australia to his advisory group. As Pell is a nasty reactionary who come of the child abuse scandals looking bad this does not encourage me. Then there is the Pope’s past life and the Dirty War …

      So call me a cynical old ex-Catholic but I’m not holding my breath.

      Michael

    • In reply to #13 by ANTIcarrot:

      “Look! Look! It’s a pedophile! It’s a pedophile! Quick! Summon the Geneva Convention!”
      Because, see, that doesn’t help…

      For many of us the Vatican must renounce paedophilia as a first move. That would be absolutely essential before engaging the Pope with discussions on tolerating Catholicism’s continued tax-free status.

      But would it kill you to admit that the step forwards was at least, in and of itself, a good thing?

      No. Reform first and then we’ll consider Catholicism’s right to engage with society.

      So why do people still cry, “Look! Look! It’s a pedophile!” when the current pope suggests that ending the culture war would be a good thing?

      We know he seeks to distract us from the industrialized approach the Vatican takes to raping kids.

  9. I get the source of frustration for some atheists. They have longed been caricatured by people of faith as moral degenerates who don’t care about morality.

    But that’s only holier than thou through faith thinking blinkers! The statistics say otherwise!

    http://www.atheistmemebase.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/09/093-Why-so-few-atheists-in-prison.jpg

    Some of them, in turn, have caricatured people of faith as weak-minded hypocrites who believe in fairy tales.

    Ah! The theist false equivalence game! Some of them ARE weak-minded hypocrites who believe in fairy tales!

    Like many atheists I subsequently met, I discovered that he knew more about the Bible than most people who claimed to be religious.

    Blake nearly got it right in the above line, but still did not make the connection the study of evidence or facts.
    Not even to this bit:-

    “A little study of history and comparative religion goes a long way. Abraham is based on an Egyptian figure. …. .. . . And if you back a little further, Uguritic archaeology shows us that the book of Genesis is based on the ancestor kings of the Canaanites. . .. .

    I just can’t go where “Seyedibar” has gone before. I love the scholar’s passion for religion, but some of them lose me when they try to deploy all their knowledge of history and religion in any effort to change someone else’ beliefs.

    You might expect a journalist who writes on religious topics to have some research skills, so as not to leave him out of his depth on the subject where he poses as an informed source! — but I forgot …. he is selling Catholic faith-thinking accommodationism!

  10. The whole bit about “holy trollers” is again the idea that religion should automatically get special “white glove” treatment. Truly open discussions about religion cannot be anything but heated. The only discussions free of “holy trollers” are those held amongst conservative close-minded theists only.

    Yes it’s true. We should avoid insults and exert restraint as much as possible. But in some cases, as with questions of serious criminal conduct like covering up child abuse by the clergy, a good old verbal “punch on the nose” is sometimes exactly what is needed in the discussion.

  11. He missed a whole lot of other trolls. Here are some that he needed to mention:

    The Quick Cryer

    This is a troll who feels that they come armed with the truth of God, but gets upset when an atheist makes an objective observation that challenges the validity of their statement. An atheist points out that their view is illogical because it uses circular reasoning, or appeals to authority, or uses a variety of logical fallacies, in turn, the troll takes the comment personally. They easily confuse criticism of a statement or idea with a personal attack. “That is factually incorrect. It actually states….” is confused with “You are dishonest.” Perhaps they might add their own angry intonations to what they are reading (when none was intended.) Theist trolls need to put on a thick skin and learn basic debating skills before challenging atheists. They need to leave the post alone for a few hours, clear their head, and then respond to what is actually being said. Some people might be just too sensitive to even attempt a debate.

    The Masquerader

    This is a troll who pretends to be an atheist in order to pose a challenge by starting a topic. They wait for a response, watching from afar, but never post again. (Sounds like our discussion board, huh?) At times, they sign up to a site with a new user name or sometimes several user names to converse with themselves. They think that they are being clever or maybe too intimidated to actually converse back and forth with an atheist. Everyone knows their game. They need to spend more time reading and absorbing information in order to gain confidence in order to prepare having a mature reasoned conversation when the time arises. Avoid making posts; stick to being an secret viewer until you’re ready. (This also goes for atheists pretending to be theists and call in atheist shows like the Atheist Experience. They are always found out – – Just stop it, please.)

    The One Hit Wonder (A variation of the Provoker)

    This troll is similar to the other trolls since being unprepared intellectually is at the core. They are usually immature, young, and combative. They make quick slams of others and probably get a rush doing so. They usually drop in and run out of comment boards.

    The Intruder

    This is a troll that goes to sites, Twitter, etc. and then complains about the posts being different from their own views. They comment that the person is trying to force their views on others, yet they fail to realize that they are the guest and no one is holding a shotgun to their head saying “Read this or else.” They jump into discussion boards on science sites and argue opinions with the factual findings. They jump into personal Twitter accounts just to spew hatred at the individual.

    The Slippery Denier

    This is a troll or responder who has no clue that their comment can be viewed as an indirect ad hominem subtly cloaked as a valid comment. A valid comment with a sarcastic dig or negative phrasing reveals a lack of awareness or caring that their true intentions or distaste is showing through. They fail to realize that they are rude. Frequently, these comments are made out of frustration or jest indirectly at the conversation or topic as a whole instead of directly at the person. (As if this somehow makes it OK.) A problem arises when the conversation slowly moves away from clearly, specifically being directed at the content of what is being said and moves toward a general comment tossed out in naive hope that the reader will make a connection to some undefined details that they were too lazy to identify. General comments dwell in a gray area and can be easily interpreted as a type of ad hominem since it is not made as a specific response to an individual point.

    For instance someone says “Free people do not need a savior, Kate. Only slaves need saviors.” Although we all share this viewpoint, we are overlooking the fact that it is a generalized comment not directed at a specific statement or specific view in the debate, therefore it can be interpreted as personal. It is indirectly saying/interpreted as “You are a slave.” The concept of “slave” also has many inferences, all of which are indirect ad hominem. This bold attempt at “poetry” generalizing a view is not directly saying that religion requires it’s followers to adhere to certain rules which if broken can have severe consequences. For instance, Mormons are required to pay tithes. Women in many religions are required to adhere to certain dress codes and clearly defined roles that limit their lives and self expression. Even Catholic women are prohibited from wearing backless wedding dresses. Specific foods should be avoided at certain times when there is nothing inherently wrong with the food. By addressing specific verses in their holy books and pointing out specific facts that cannot be easily disputed, the debate sticks to the topic and is less likely to slip into personal generalizations. This requires more work, but potentially avoids slipping in an unaware “ad hominem” which is dependent upon the reader finding detailed facts that you never mentioned.

    To avoid indirect “ad hominems” that are disguised as valid points, make certain comments directly and specifically relate to the content. Saying something is “intellectually dishonest” or “vapid and ridiculous” could be better worded if you commented that something said was “factually incorrect because of these reasons.” Wording something tactfully is a skill in itself which requires practice and awareness.

    The “In need of attention”

    This troll is the most unfortunate. They have 80,000 posts within a few years of being on a site and clearly no lives outside of the internet. They are well-known by all others and have not learned anything during their entire time of posting. You would pray for them if you were a theist, because you know something must be lacking in their own lives for them to be constantly fighting a debate that’s clearly a stalemate. Not even their God has filled them with a new purpose. You wonder why do they keep persisting? It’s time to move on.

    Sometimes this troll is someone like that “Dave” guy from several years ago. They cross a legal and psychological line that they have no awareness that they are crossing.

    I mention this because our lives are so precious and our time is very limited. We each need to choose our time wisely and realize some battles cannot be won. We each need to determine if the ten or fifteen minutes could be spent more wisely or if the comment brings us true satisfaction, joy, or fulfills a purpose.

  12. When I come across the Paul Brouns of this world it is indeed very difficult not to resort to insult. There are plenty of other terms that could be hurled at people like him, but I felt “numbskull” was accurate and appropriate.

    Generally I agree that insults are counter productive, but when a member of the Science Committee of the House of Representative thinks the Earth is less than 10,000 years, then an insult fits the bill.

    • In reply to #22 by Mr DArcy:

      When I come across the Paul Brouns of this world it is indeed very difficult not to resort to insult. There are plenty of other terms that could be hurled at people like him, but I felt “numbskull” was accurate and appropriate.

      “Broun, who is a doctor, says that “as a scientist” he has found data that shows the earth is no older than 9,000 years and was created in six days.”

      I could think of many more words more appropriate than “numbskull”!

  13. The key to winning this game is to get into the head of the brainwashed, then think what anyone could say that would start you doubting it.

    Christians are taught that anyone who does not agree is highly wicked. If you behave in a wicked way, anything you say can even more easily be discounted. In the secular world, an idea can be true or false no matter who says it. In the Christian world, whether in idea is true depends almost entirely on who said it.

    Part is coming up with cracks in the indoctrination that might have already formed, things that almost nobody believes.

    • In reply to #25 by Roedy:

      Part is coming up with cracks in the indoctrination that might have already formed, things that almost nobody believes.

      The thing is that some of the indoctrination that absolutely nobody should believe without wanting others to know that they need a brain transplant is still held to be “the truth”, and even creating chasms isn’t enough to get people to start questioning just what they believe.

      • In reply to #28 by ArloNo:

        In reply to #25 by Roedy:

        The problem is the arguments I see as closers have no effect on Christians.
        People should pay attention to reason, but they don’t. That’s the way it is. We should be studying who is converting and why. They are going to be the easiest nuts to crack. What I would like to read are the stories of what convinced those ex-clergy to drop Christianity.

        I suspect Christians are not big on logic. They have no trust in it. They don’t even understand it. It might be more like “God abandoned me, so screw you god, I’ll abandon you”, which to an atheist is not in the least atheist.

  14. I refuse to argue with religious idiots, doing so would acknowledge that they actually have an argument, but I sometimes feel moved to point out their logical fallacies in new and entertaining ways.

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